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BLOG: How to apply the principles of network management to talent management

Maya Townsend and Bob Akerley | Jan. 25, 2012
Every CIO can agree that it's essential to keep the data network up. If it goes down, then so does the business—and potentially the CIO's career. Understanding and optimizing the network are key components of every successful CIO's role from their first day on the job to their last.

Hidden Subject Matter Experts. Network mapping uncovers the trusted experts in the organization: The people who, quietly and unobtrusively, are trusted by their colleagues to have the best and latest information about a customer, coding language, product line or organizational process. These are the people that, when laid off, can hurt an organization just through their absence.

High Performers. IT leaders think they can identify their high performers. However, theyre not always right. One company's technology leadership team identified the 30 individuals they thought would be highly connected. Then, after a network analysis, they matched their list to the results. Only five people from the initial list were actual critical connectors. It turned out that the other 25 on the initial list were only one or two steps away from the leaders: direct contacts or contacts of direct contacts. But, since the leaders' personal networks were limited (as everyones are), they couldnt see the connectors outside their personal networks. It was a wake-up call. The leadership team rethought their talent development strategies and created special plans to leverage the actual key connectors.

Performance Webs. Another error that organizations often make is that they dont consider how individuals' networks influence their ability to deliver. After a merger, two organizations looked at their staff to identify who they wanted to keep. One star performer was quickly named. However, the organization almost sandbagged him by proposing to release key members of his network: People who didnt show up as stars themselves, but who helped the star perform. Luckily, the star and his support network were retained so there was no interruption in service quality.

CIOs often ask, Can I hire for critical connectors? Can I find a replacement for a pulsetaker who's leaving? The answer is no. Hubs, gatekeepers and pulsetakers emerge in networks due to multiple, complex factors that cant be predicted. Some of these factors have to do with roles: Project managers will naturally interact with more people than coders simply due to the nature of the work. Other factors have to do with individuals and their personal integrity, reliability, trustworthiness and desire to share information.

But the most important factors have to do with the other people in the organization: If they dont trust and accept someone, that person cannot become a critical connector. Since IT leaders cant hire critical connectors, they must monitor, maintain and fine tune what they have in order to keep human networks up and running.

Optimizing Your Human Network

CIOs are already natural network managers through their deep understanding of and interaction with IT networks. So it doesn't take much to apply network knowledge to human networks. If CIOs have IT performance dashboards, they can also have human network dashboards. Savvy CIOs keep a human network dashboard that includes a list of hubs, gatekeepers and pulsetakers; a list of single points of failure and SPOF remedies; a plan for retaining critical connectors; and a list of red flags. They keep it in a locked drawer—no dashboard updates at town hall meetings—but they look at it every day to make sure theyre keeping their human network up and running.


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